Look back at the changes in the last 10 years in our communications of both voice and data. In India, in the early 1990s, voice communications was still largely over a telephone line and data communications was largely through dial-up modems at 9.6 / 14.4 Kbps. The wired telephone service was operated only by the government-controlled telephone companies, while the Internet was not yet available for commercial access. One had to wait for a reasonable length of time (weeks to months) to get a telephone line at work or home. In the early 1990s, on the television front, the cable revolution had just begun as various private operators, spurred by on the desire for connectivity to BBC and CNN after the Gulf War, created their own territories across India, largely unsupervised by the government.
What a change has happened in the past 10 years! Voice telecom services has many operators across India, with a choice of both wired and wireless. The cost of long-distance in India (STD) has fallen by over 50% in the past few months. International dialing (ISD) costs are also likely to fall rapidly, as competitors enter the segment from April 1.
Data communications also has options – ADSL, fixed wireless, ISDN, dial-up, cable modem, even though the speeds still remain low (64-128 Kbps) for reasonably priced services. Internet access is available across much of India. Cable operators have connected tens of millions of homes across India, and the channels have multiplied. As it turns out, Indians pay perhaps the least amount of money in the world for cable TV – about Rs 250-300 (USD 5-6) per month for 50-75 channels).
On the financial front, control of India’s international telecom operator, VSNL, has just been handed over to the Tata group through a disinvestments of 26% of equity by the Indian government. Earlier in the year, Bharti Telecom successfully launched one of India’s largest IPOs, raising nearly USD 200 million to create a company valued at about USD 2 billion.
From a technology standpoint, one of the changes which has been happening worldwide in the wired and wireless worlds is the following: that which used to be wired earlier is now becoming wireless, and that what was wireless is becoming wired. This change is also impacting India. Voice communications is shifting from wired lines to cellular. Television broadcasting is shifting from free-to-air broadcasts and satellite to cable networks.
The most dramatic actions perhaps has been on the wireless front. Cellular phones are doubling annually in India and now have an installed base of about 6 million. Text messaging usage is rocketing upwards across the country. The cellular phone companies are also rolling out 2.5G (GPRS) in India, to offer always-on wireless data services. High-speed data connectivity is being offered to corporates and cybercafes across India by companies like Satyam Infoway via fixed wireless.
The real wireless revolution in India, however, is still to come.